Natural Light Review

In the sodden woodland of Hungary, a small collection of World War II soldiers, including the immensely fatigued Corporal István Semetka (Ferenc Szabó), hunt for any opposition to their cause. After stumbling upon a war-ravaged village, the troops are called to arms, and Semetka to lead. However, with eight months of unbroken campaigning to his name, Semetka’s psyche is a similarly tortured battleground.

by Jake Cunningham |
Published on
Release Date:

12 Nov 2021

Original Title:

Natural Light

In onscreen warfare, the sensory evocation of battle — like those seen in Saving Private Ryan and Apocalypse Now — is often one of total immersion, bewilderment and overwhelming experience. In Dénes Nagy’s debut feature Natural Light, while ravaged landscapes and equally broken soldiers set the stage, the strategy for military engagement is altogether different. Here, husk-like Hungarian soldiers are numb to their circumstances. They’re not being consumed by their exploits; they’ve already been consumed by them, hollowed out and left to trudge ever forward.


The harsh plight of Corporal Semetka (Ferenc Szabó) and his men can be challenging, its unrelenting bleakness offers a blunt reality that’s strikingly crafted, but frustratingly keeps the audience at a distance. The setting of the village and its surrounding woods is filled with a cold fog, which seems to waft into the mind of the soldiers, their detached trance only occasionally broken by rare stings to the senses, courtesy of the ear-shattering battlefield, the prickling cold of weaponry or the warming scent of the military kitchen.

With the soldiers desensitised by their violent actions, Nagy emphasises minute sensory details of their experience, using a close-up camera and exacting sound design. The slurp of soup, the brushing of hair and the suck on a cigarette are lingered on, breaking through the biting atmosphere, highlighting the rare individual pleasures discovered during wartime. This same tactility heightens destruction as well as solace, with each bullet and flame offering concentrated anxiety as well.

While impressively realised, the slight story doesn’t engage for the entirety of the film, with regular moments of quiet reflection feeling ponderous and any emotional connection left out in the cold. Beyond Semetka the rest of the troops are frozen out, and while Ferenc Szabó brings the character to exhausted, fearful, convictionless life, the focus on him does prove tiring resulting in an occasionally vivid but not entirely captivating wartime portrait.

The forceful imagery and acute sound design make Natural Light worth surrendering to, but a frail narrative may leave you feeling like you’re in no man’s land.
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